Posted on January 15, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
The free agent market has been unkind to power hitters this winter, and it’s been especially harsh on Michael Saunders. There’s been little chatter about Saunders this winter, especially with players like Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Jose Bautista still unsigned. However, Saunders is arguably the best left-hand hitting outfielder on the market, and so when the market develops further, he will have suitors. Naturally, Saunders is growing impatient, but the native Canadian is still holding out hope that he’ll sign with a team soon and be able to return to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“We’ve been talking to the Blue Jays on and off all off-season. I’ve been very vocal about my tenure in Toronto and really enjoying myself,” Saunders said Saturday, adding that he’s currently in talks with multiple teams. “I’m keeping my options open. I’m waiting for the right deal for me and my family. I’m hoping to stay in Toronto and hopefully finding out soon.”
On paper, the Blue Jays would appear to have room for Saunders if they want him back. Toronto figures to add a corner outfielder before the start of spring training, and the Blue Jays would be wise to bring in a left-handed hitter to balance out a lineup that’s loaded with right-handed power hitters. Signing a free agent like Brandon Moss or trading for Jay Bruce are also options among left-hand hitting outfielders. It’s also possible, but increasingly unlikely, that Toronto will re-sign Bautista. This would put Saunders near the top of Toronto’s wish list, at least in theory.
Unfortunately for Saunders, teams looking at outfielders, including the Blue Jays, can’t help but worry about his productivity plummeting the second half of last season. Saunders hit .298 with a .923 OPS the first half of 2016, numbers that made him an all-star for the first time. However, after the all-star break, he hit just .178 with a .638 OPS. Saunders did bounce back to perform in the offseason, but his poor numbers in the second half are hard to ignore.
“Quite honestly I think I got tired,” Saunders said Saturday, trying to explain his poor second half in 2016. “I know that I didn’t have a great second half, but I finished strong in the playoffs and that helped me going into the off-season. It’s all about having a short memory. Going to the playoffs we didn’t go as deep as we wanted to, but having a strong post-season helped propel me into the off-season.”
Other than the Blue Jays, the Orioles and Phillies appear to have the most interest in Saunders, although he declined to name the teams with whom he’s currently negotiating. The Orioles are looking for outfield help, and appear poised to move on from Mark Trumbo. The Phillies would also welcome an every day right fielder like Saunders, although a move to Philadelphia could be tough on Saunders after playing for a contender in Toronto the past two years.
Saunders is understandably antsy about being unsigned at this point in the offseason, but his statements on Saturday indicate a resolution could be coming soon. Of course, it’s still hard to foresee Saunders signing with a team before Trumbo, Napoli, and Bautista sign, especially if his top choice is to return to the Blue Jays.